Sunday, 24 August 2014

Gears Of War: Book 1 - Hollow (#1-6)

"How else do you react to in the face of insanity or horror? You laugh or you cry basically." - Jace Stratton

We're back in the world of videogame adaptations today.  However this is a little different from the DOOM comic, which simply told the story of the game.  This book is part of an interesting movement in tie-in comics to fill in gaps between games as well as provide further adventures of popular videogame characters or new characters placed into the same universe.  This comic book collection bridges the gap between Gears of War and Gears of War 2, told from the perspective of a new character Jace Stratton, who would later be added into the game canon as a character in Gears of War 3.

Gears Of War is a third person shooter for the Xbox 360.  A third person shooter means you can see your character on screen as he runs about shooting things. This game helped popularise both the use of cover as a game mechanic and the ability to play co-operatively with another player. I absolutely love the Gears series.  I have finished all three games on the hardest difficulties, played them in co-op with myself (for the Achievements) as I refuse to have anything to do with the cesspool that is Xbox Live.  I keep my cash in a Gears Of War wallet.  I often wear a Gears Of War t-shirt and I have two action figures of the main characters of the first two games, which live on my bed side table.  So a comic book series set in the same universe should be right up my street and to be fair, it's a pretty decent attempt at putting the intimate epicness of the Gears series onto the printed page.  The arist of the main story is Liam Sharpe and the writer  is Joshua Ortega.

Gears and Locust
The story so far as far as this comic is concerned, is that on an Earth like planet called Sera, fourteen years ago from underground there suddenly burst up millions of humanoid mutants called "Locust".  After fighting a huge, genocidal war against them, the human population was forced back into the capital Jacinto, the only city that the Locust can't burrow underneath.  From there the COG (Coalition of Ordered Governments) coordinate the continued struggle against the Locust, with the soldiers known as "Gears" constantly being sent out to battle them.  Not all of the humans made it to Jacinto and the Stranded as they are known as, eke out a precarious existence in the ruins of the rest of Sera.
Jace Stratton
The main character you control in all the three games is a man called Marcus Fenix, a badass soldier who was court-martialled after disobeying orders during the first part of the war and placed in prison.  At the start of the first game, your bromantic partner Dominic Santiago comes to get you out as the war is going so badly, all prisoners have been pardoned. You later hook up with ex-Thrashball player Augustus Cole and sarcastic tech-geek Damon Baird to form Delta squad, and their mission in the first game, which comes just before this comic, was to go underground and detonate the "Lightmass Bomb" in the hope it would wipe out the Locust.  But although it killed a substantial number, the Locust are still around in great numbers and the war still goes on. 

The story begins with Jace (who narrates the story) reflecting on the background to the conflict. Turns out during the initial E-Day, he was orphaned. He battles Locust along with Marcus Fenix, who he hero-worships enough to be wearing indentically styled armour as him. Marcus chews him out for dropping his Lancer (an assault rifle with a chainsaw attached), then they clear the area.  They find a gruff figure called Michael Barrick, the sole survivor of his squad and who has a nasty cough.
Locust versus Marcus Fenix
Jace: "It was tough not to feel disappointed. Three weeks out in the field and we'd only found one Gear.  The APC was packed with supplies.  But still we needed people a whole lot more than we needed supplies."

After stopping to investigate another area, they relax by a campfire and tell war stories.  Back in the APC they hear a beacon.  When they travel to its location it turns out to be a trap.  One of the squad is badly wounded.  Marcus and Michael take out the Locust and Jace tries to stop his comrade bleeding.  But suddenly they hear the word "Boom" which means the heavy weapons Boomers are nearby and that they are in a lot of trouble.  

Marcus acts as a moving target so Jace can get the wounded Gonzalez out of there.  Between them Marcus, Dom and Michael deal with the Locust, but it's too late for Gonzalez who dies in Jace's arms.

Jace: "Part of me wished I could still do that.  Cry or scream or something... But I just felt hollow. Numb. Gil was like a brother to me and I still didn't have any tears for him."
Michael Barrick makes the Locust lose their heads
They return to the impregnable city of Jacinto and cremate Gonzalez. The Gears female liason to the Jacinto based command structure, called Anya, meets them for a chat.  She finds Marcus in a bar and a lecherous bar patorn makes a move on her, saying that all the goods ones are being kept "locked up".  ALERT. ALERT.  Reference to the COG Breeding Farms/Rape Camps, one of the stupidest EU concepts ever introduced into a fictional universe ever.  If I can bring myself to review book 2 in this series and make the review more that the sentence "Karen Traviss is a talentless haaaaaaack" repeated over and over, you'll find out what I am finding so disagreeable.  But lets not derail this review anymore.

Anyqway Marcus tells him to get lost, which he does when he realises who Marcus is.  Jace visits the orphanage he was raised in, then when their leave is over, they move out.  Michael is replacing Gonzalez in their four man squad.  Unfortunately as they travel across the barren lands their helicpter is hit by Seeders, Locust anti-aircraft missles.  The pilot is killed and it's up to Jace to land it.
How the other half live...
Jace manages an unorthodox crash landing that they all survive.  They start the long walk to their destination - Montevado. On the way they meet a Stranded called Jonboy who takes them to a town called "Fucked".  The Gears fight off a Locust attack on the town and in gratitude Jonboy agrees to let them have his vehicle.  Jace spots an young teenage girl called Lily and asks if they can take her with them as she'll have a better chance of surviving when they get her back to Jacinto.  Marcus reluctantly agrees and she rolls out with them.  Jace promises her they'll find her parents who had left Fucked looking for help.
Locust ambush them, and after dealing easily with the initial Locust attackes, things take a turn for the horrible when a Brumak appears.  That's a huge mutant with a massive gun strapped to its back and if your facing it with anything less than a cannon of your own, you are basically dead meat.
Lily and Jace
Jace: "When the odds are stacked against you.  When everything seems hopeless.  Sometimes the strategy is to take the problem head on. Rush in with guns blazing and pray for the best.  Other times, that's absolutely the stupidest thing you could possibly do."

Jace survives the blast from the Brumak after he charges it.  Marcus gets him into cover with Dom and Michael.  Realising they don't have a hope, they try and lure it away from the vehicle that Lily is in.  When things look bleak, the cavalry arrives.
A Brumak.  Aka, you are screwed.
Augustus Cole and Damon Baird arrive with a tank like vehicle. Everyone gets inside and they blast the shit out of the Brumak.  Jace then returns to the other vehicle and gets Lily who survived the assault. Marcus sends Lily back with Baird and Cole to Jacinto and they take two bikes and travel to Montevado.  Part of the reason they are going there is to investigate seismic disturbances that have been happening recently.

They split up into two teams of two. Marcus tries to find out more about Michael who turns out to be an ex-Stranded who lost his entire family.  He also keeps hacking up bloody phlegm, suffering a new fatal disease known and "rust lung" that was triggered by the Light Mass bomb explosion.
Jace and Dom find a Stranded who warns them the whole place is a death trap.  Then a mob of Wretches attack.  They are small, animlistic Locust who like to swarm you and are a right pain to fight in the game.  Then suddenly they stop attacking and run away.  The ground shakes and suddenly Montevado collapses into a hole in the ground.

Jace is trapped under a concrete beam, suffering flashbacks to E-Day.  Dom manages to lift the beam off him, and thanks to his armour, Jace is not badly damaged.  They both lost their Lancers in the collapse, but have other guns with them.  Marcus and Michael are also both OK, although Michael is coughing badly now.
Dom has a plan...
Jace and Dom are attacked by giant insects as they blast them en masse Marcus and Michael arrive to help them and they wipe them out.  They stop and ponder the crater the city has noqw become. Marcus says no way was this a natural occurence.  The hole is too neat for that.  This was done deliberately (this turns out to be a major plot point in the second game, set after this, qwhich reveals the holes are being made by a giant, Locust controlled worm burrowing under them).  Suddenly a huge, spider like Locust appears called a Corpser.  Delta squad fall back, but the Corpser retreats to allow a horde of Locust, some on Blood Mounts, to attack.
The crater where the city used to be.
They engage in a furious firefight.  Marcus orders Jace and Dom to higher ground.  As they climb they come across a bunch of Stranded hiding in a hole.  Michael tells Marcus to leave him and get to higher ground himself.  Jace asks the Stranded if they have heard of Lily's parents, while Michael yells at Marcus to go.  He runs into the Locust, punching them to pieces as the rest fill him with bullets, killing him.  But his sacrifice allows Marcus to escape. Jace is shoqwn Lily's mum who is very sick from losing a hand to a wretch bite. Her dad didn't make it.  Suddenly the ledge Jace is on crumbles, sending him tumbling into the pit.

Jace: "Marcus Fenix was a hero, and heroes never die right? Unfortunately there was no rule like that for the rest of us."

Anya gets in contact with them saying and evac and med helicopters are on their way. Down in the crater, Jace is alive, but close to a huge, blind Locust called a Berserker. The helicopter arrives and flies down into the crater.  Marcus hangs off a ladder and Jace manages to jump across to him, the Berserker missing him by inches.
Jump Jace, Jump!
Back in Jacinto, Lily is being looked after by the same orphanage Jace grew up in. Her mother is being treated in hospital and Jace and Lily go and visit her.

Jace: "You realise that feeling is the key to everything.  Being hollow is the danger... It's tough sometimes.  Hell, it's tough most of the time.  But feeling is what makes us human."

And that brings the main storyline to an end.  The book has a short coda, which tells of how much Dom loved his wife and how they came to be seperated in a Locust attack and how he has never stopped looking for her.  In the second game this leads to a tragic scene where he finally finds her, an emaciated figure, tortured so much she's become a vegetable and all he can do is end her suffering.  Very sad stuff.
A happy ending....?
If the story seems a little on the basic side narrative-wise it is perhaps because it does pay such strong tribute to the game itself. And for me that's a point in its favour actually. The only time this comic strikes a false note is when it mentions stuff like the "Breeding Farms" which are things that in no way could be extrapolated from the game itself.  There is a great debate in academia about how to approach games critically and anylytically, with the two extreme views being the Ludologists - who prioritise how the game functions as a mechanism of play.  Versus the Narratologists who focus more on the story-telling capacity of a game and the possibilities for telling stories in a new way that they involve.  Gears Of War is one of those few games that manages a perfect balance between the two approaches, working in synergy to create one of the most blissfully superb videogames ever created.  So removing the "play" aspect of the game is going to unbalance things. Hence the comic, although perfectly decent as an Expanded Universe work, can't ever match up to Gears Of War - the Videogame Experience.  But as the fact it's nicely drawn and decently captures the feel of the game is at least a nice bonus for fans of the series. Shame they cocked up the next book though, but that's (possibly) a story for another day...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Dial H Book 2: Exchange (#9-15 Justice League #23.3)

"Kill that bastard!" - Nelson Jent

So you're DC.  Your New 52 relaunch has certainly been a sales success, but has divided your fanbase and generated very few critical successes. After a second wave launch of multiple new titles in 2012 one book that is getting plaudits is Dial H, a complex rejigging of the Dial H For Hero comic written by the acclaimed novelist China Miéville.  Unfortunately sales while decent are not stellar (though it apparently sold well enough to be called "The New York Times Bestselling Series" on the cover. Hmm), and so despite all the praise you cancel the book forcing Miéville to wrap up what was obviously planned as a much longer plot arc in a couple of issues.  Shame on you DC.  So we come to the second and final volume of Dial H, which collects the last nine issues plus a fun, post series one shot from the Justice League series called "Dial E" as part of it's "Villains Month" intiative.  The comics collected here are ridiculously textually dense, crammed with jokes, character moments, multiple twists and turns and I am having to summarise massively to keep this post from becoming a truly epic length, especially the second half of the book where it's obvious everything is having to happen in a big rush to let the book end on a definite and upbeat note. Probably the biggest casualties of this cut short run are the Dial Bunch, who were obviously designed to be explored in much greater detail than we get here. With that said then, let's crack on.
Of all the Heroes they dial, Daffodil Host is my favourite
Nelson and Roxie have been travelling the world, chasing up rumors of another dial.  This includes infiltrating a secretive cult devoted to the dials.  Roxie turns into a hero in front of one of the high ranking members to gain some specific information which sends them to a ruined qwater temple also devoted to dials, but the dial that was being worshipped is gone.  They do however find a clue that the Canadian military have been there.  They are also being tracked by a member of that organisation.  A man who was part of a failed military attempt to create a time machine.  Now he can generate multiple copies of himself at different points in his most recent timeline.  If something happens to his most recent body, he can jump back into an earlier one.  His hero name is The Centipede.  The Canadian military seem to be trying and failing to create a national hero, so they give the Centipede a stupid insect helmet and tell him he might have to do.  The Centipede meanwhile is keeping a secret from them which are Roxie's notes he lifted while tracking Nelson and Roxie.
The Centipede's tricky time travel abilty in action
The Centipede accosts Nelson out on the street and takes the H-Dial.  But when he tries to dial a hero it doesn't work.  Roxie appears, manages to dial herself up a hero who is a minotaur and traps the Centipede within a maze.  Later, Nelson as a hero called The Glimpse manages to infiltrate the Canadian military base where they have a dial that hasn't been working well for them.  They can dial a hero, but the dialler then just freezes up.  The Centipede tells the military dialler to dial a hero to deal with Nelson, so he turns into Bristol Bloodhound a giant rocket powered dog.  But when he goes to fight Nelson he finds himself compelled to do what Nelson tells him and flies himself and Nelson out of the base.  Later as he and Nelson are back to normal, Roxie appears and when the soldier tells them the number he dials is 7,4,3,3, Nelson realises he is dialling the word SIDE.  It's an S-Dial - a sidekick dial - that's why the soldier was compelled to obey Nelson while he was H-dialled.

Roxie and Nelson decide to test out the S-Dial.  Nelson says he's been losing himself while H-Dialed so he'll be the sidekick. They become a handsome and beautiful hero couple and go and deal with a bank raid:

"That surge again, that sudden knowledge of who I am.. And what I what I can do.  But this time there's an undertow.  Trust? Obedience? Whatever it is.. it's a relief!".

After they foil the raid, both of them are amped up about how well they worked togteher and suddenly Nelson plants a huge kiss on Roxie.
Roxie and Nelson about to have a bad idea
At the Canadian military establishment, the Centipede has the leader of the Dial Cult and has hooked him up to various machines so he can use him to attract the attention of the shadoqw on the line - The Fixer. Nelson and Roxie wake up in bed together.  They made love qwhile dialed and Neson is horrified, saying Roxie abused her H-Dial power over him.  He uses the H-Dial and turns into... The Flash!  This annoyingly leads into a two-part story in The Flash series which is not collected here.  In any case, Nelson comes to the conclusion that they were not copying powers but stealing them.

"Oh God. What've I done? What was he doing when I took his powers?"

The Centipede meanwhile has managed to bring The Fixer to him.  He tells him he wants to team up and that The Fixer missed a dial last time he was here (he had previously concluded that The Fixer has lost the ability to travel easily between dimensions and had to use something like The Abyss from book 1 as a way to reach Earth).  Roxie and Nelson meanwhile ponder the dial and wonder if the reason The Centipede didn't change when he dialled was because it didn't see him as a hero.  They are interupted by The Fixer and The Centipede suddenly appearing.  Nelson, still as the Flash, grabs Roxie and runs, ending up in Australia.  He then changes back, and The Fixer and The Centipede show up to attack them again, The Centipede grabs the H-Dial and tells The Fixer to deal with them.
Nelson as The Flash
Roxie snatches the H-Dial back, but The Centipede grabs it again.  The Fixer takes it from him and starts to switch it off.  Roxie uses the S-Dial and manages to knock the H-Dial out of The Fixer's hands while resisting his orders.  Nelson takes the H-Dial and Roxie flies him aqway to a building where they hide out.  Before they can talk about sleeping together, another hero appears, introducing himself as Open Window Man.  Nelson remembers him being Boy Chimney's sidekick.

The Centipede arrives on the scene and Open Window Man knocks him out of the building.  He then ports Roxie and Nelson through one window and out the next, travelling to the bottom of the building where The Centipede is.  The Fixer shows up as do a whole gang of Dialers called The Dial Bunch.  Using a portal they send The Fixer and The Centipede back to where The Fixer came from.  Although as this was where The Centipede wanted to go anyway, there is likely to be more trouble in store.
The Dial Bunch to the rescue!
The next chapter I really have to applaud for the imagination it shows.  The Dial Bunch, Nelson and Roxie have travelled to a world made up of grey walls.  The inhabitants of this world exist as graffiti on those walls.  It's here they have tracked down the legendary J-Dial, the Jump Dial that used to belong to Fixer and allows directed travel between worlds and dimensions.  Unfortunately they can't figure a way to get it out of the wall.  While the rest ponder, Open Window Man talks with one of the graffiti people who can see him, and fills in some background on the Dial Bunch and their mission.

Open Window Man: "We been fighting the Fixer, who killed Captain Random, for years. It's too tough to kill.  We thought we'd got rid of it a while ago, but we made a mistake. Sent something with it, something we need to stop."

Captain Random was the hero of this world, and owner of the J-Dial.  He explains that without the J-Dial they have to take backdoors through dimensions.  Same way The Fixer travels.  As they have journeyed they have come across evidence of multiple genocides with The Centipede's mask cast-offs proving he was involved.
Flashback to Baansa finding Open Window Man.
He says they are all dial-touched.  A human called Yaaba with a H-Dial; Nem, a cogsmith qwith a G-Dial who can summon random artefacts; Ejad, a robot dandy with a Dial Tapper, Dwan who has an Autodialler and finally Baansa who has a H-Dial that always steals rather than copies powers (and here it is confirmed Nelson stealing The Flash's power was a one-off) and who was responsible for the death of Boy Chimney by doing this. She doesn't use her dial anymore, but she's the one who can open doors through dimensions and find the Dial-Touched of those worlds.

Open Window Man:
"We hunt the Fixer who ends those who use these broken machines for justice. Like your Captain Random. And we hunted for new comrades. Became the Dial Bunch."

All the dials had been scattered through time and dimensions by a massive war in the Exchange.  To get to the Exchange they need the J-Dial.  The grafitti person then points out his world has windows and Open Windown Man has an idea.  He gets Nem to summon something with a window and travels through it into the graffiti world and gets a hold of the J-Dial. He returns with it and as the Dial Bunch make to leave, the graffiti person thanks Open Window Man for inspiring him to carry on the good fight, him being the graffiti worlds equivalent of a hero.
The graffitti world
Nelson: "Water worlds. Rust worlds. Worlds made of of light and worlds made of dark. Worlds underground.  Every world has its heroes.  Its gods. Its monsters"

They are on a world saving the froglike inhabitants from a monster.  This worlds has been taught to beware of dialers because of a "war".  Ejaad has also been killed here

They can't make the J-Dial qwork, so are still travelling via "frayed" spots in reality.  They arrive in a world being consumed by water and are attacked as being the cause.  When they explain they aren't they open another hole in reality and take the few inhabitants of that world with them.  But the hole closes before Nem and Yaaba can get through.

They are attacked again on this new world, by a strange, mechanical alien that lives there.  He threatens to hurt the civilians they have with them, so they surrender.

Alien: "Why did you come here? You think we'll let you steal powers again?  By Torque and Attrition, I remember the war.  And I will not allow you to restart it."
The big giant head of The Operator
Before he can elaborate on this mysterious war people keep referring to, a zombie attacks.  Then a giant head of a bald man appears in the sky, saying he is punishing this world.  And more zombies attack.  The alien allows our heroes to have their dials back and they fight them off.  Then the alien reveals they mended the J-Dial and so our heroes dial 0,0,0,0 and travel to the Exchange.

They are greeted by The Centipede, they battle him and beat him doqwn but Fixer arrives and grabs Nelson and takes him back into the Exchange building.  An edifice with many huge wires leading into it.

Baansa: "Wires channeling an infinity of worlds. Ripped out of eternity.  Ruined by war"
The Exchange
Back in the exchange, Nelson wakes up on a table, with Fixer standing guard over him.  The bald man introduces himself as The Lost Operator - O.  He has a D-Dial, a Doom Dial qwhich he can use to summon up random apocalypses.  He inflicts one on the world our heroes just left.

Nelson asks the Centipede why he is helping O.  The Centipede replies that when the H-Dial refused to work for him, judging him not a hero, he decided he wanted something else.  An E-Dial, EVIL.  And O has made him one.  Nelson then wants to know why Fixer is helping O.   He tells Nelson about the war.  How this was a world of diallers, and people in other worlds became afraid of them when their dials stole powers rather than copied them.  The worlds got together and attacked the Dial world, and it was destroyed apart from the Exchange where 0 created the D-Dial to take revenge on those worlds.

Fixer: "Perhaps it was our enemies portals making the exchange bleed. Or 0's amplifying machines destabilising realities and chronologies.  Or our terror.  Or the strength of our attacks.  But what happened was like nothing that had before."

There was an explosion that scattered dials through time, space and reality. Fixer had been loyal to a dead world, one that 0 helped kill.
Fixer reminices
Meanwhile Roxie, Baansa and Open Window Man have snuck into the Exchange.  They find an armory full of H-Dials and Roxie takes one. Centipede arrives to fight them, and by using an instruction manual for the dials they manage to temporarily fend him off.  Fixer then turns on 0, but 0 can turn off dials and disables the Fixer. Dwan and Roxie arrive, and Dwan can fight because his autodialler moves to fast to be disabled.  But 0 speeds it's changes up until Dwan can't move.  Roxie, Nelson, Baansa and Open Windown Man exit via a window.  Centipede arrives and kills Baansa.

Roxie reprograms a H-Dial with crossed wires inside.  This allows Nelson to transform into heroes that are a combination of each other, and means 0 can't turn his dial off.  0 uses an amplifier instead to grow huge.  Nelson keeps battling him to distract him while Roxie enters the Exchange and starts working on crossing the huge wires powering the Exchange.  This results in a build up of pressure that causes 0 to explode, also taking out the top of the Exchange where Roxie and Open Window Man managed to escape from just in time.  But not the Centipede who was trying to stop them. They survey the aftermath.
Nelson keeps O distracted
Nelson: "Hey, we stopped them.  We kinda did it.  And we're in the middle of a bunch of tangled universes. We saved history but we're beat up, hungry and stuck. But that's the exchange.  We got stuff to salvage.  To fire up.  You know this ain't the end of it.  We're dialers.  So lets dial."

But it is the end of it.  That's the final issue of Dial H alas. It wasn't quite the end of The Centipede though, who survived the explosion at the Exchange.  He showed up in Justice League #23.3 as part of Villains Month, chasing up his E-Dial which had fallen through reality into the hands of a gang of teenagers using it to create heroes.  The issue is most notable for having each page drawn by a different artist and ending with the Centipede getting knocked out by a dimensionally travelling hero called Rescue Jill.
The Operator and the Exchange go Boom
This second volume of Dial H does suffer a little from it's truncated run.  You can tell Miéville wanted more time to explore the Dial Bunch and the final showdown at the Exchange with 0 is contained in one issue which means things like Fixer's Heel Face turn seems to come out of nowhere.  That said, the fact this longer storyline crammed into a few issues still manages to make sense is a testement both to the artists and writer's command over their material.  Miéville created a wonderful team pairing in a world of glamorous perfect heroes having the main characters as a fat slob and a pensionably aged woman was a radical move.  Beating the final villain with a combination of her cleverness and his bravery was a fantastic end for the series.  There are enough concepts and characters thrown into these final few issues that could keep more "decompressed" titles going for years.  It's a tragedy that an intelligent and literate comic like this was cancelled.  Hopefully Miéville will write for comics again in the future and it's certainly made me keen to seek out his prose work now. If you enjoy way out science fantasy stories, Dial H is definitely a comic you need to read.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Dial H Book One: Into You (#1-6, #0)

"We saved the town.  We saved the moon.  Even if we couldn't save everyone" - Nelson Jent

In 2011 DC initated the biggest, line-wide shake up of their comic book universe since 1985's Crisis On Infinite Earths.  Every single main DCU title was cancelled, while others were slated for later cancellation including several from the Vertigo and Wildstorm imprints (those characters DC wanted back in the main DCU like Swamp Thing, John Constantine and Stormwatch for example) and then fifty-two titles were launched beginning at issue #1, with the idea that this "New 52" as it is now known as, would always have fifty-two titles running at once.  If a new title was to be launched, an old one would have to be cancelled to make room.  This shake-up has proved controversial at the very least because every title was given an entirely new continuity, basically wiping out seventy-odd years of accumulated DCU history.  Because there has been so much controversy attached to The New 52, it's been hard figuring out which titles have been worth checking out.  But one title kept popping up in my perusing of various comics blogs as a title worth checking out and that comic was Dial H, written by acclaimed fantasy novellist  China Miéville and primary artist Mateus Santolouco.

It's a reboot of an earlier comic called Dial H for Hero, which is about a mysterious dial that, when the letters H, E, R and O are dialed, turns the user into a random superhero.  These are strictly ones designed only to appear in the Dial H comic (except later on in Book 2 when a major plot point turns on summoning up a well known DCU hero).  There have been a couple of exceptions, but only minor ones like Plasticman have been used in the past.  The first Dial H for Hero ran from 1966-1968.  Then it returned in the 80's as a back-up strip in various comics.  It returned again in 2003, entitled H.E.R.O, looking at the effect the dial had on it's users, at the end of it's 22 issue run the H-dial was sent back in time to 50,000 BC and there were no more stories based on the concept until the New 52 reboot in 2011.  Here all the characters associated with the series have been pruned from the narrative and a brand new storyline and history of the Hero-Dial instituted.
Darren and our soon-to-be hero Nelson
The action begins with one of our two main protagonists - Nelson Jent - being chewed out by his friend Darren over just having had a heart attack.  Nelson is not glamorously fit.  He's pudgy, unfit, a smoker and a depressive.  His friend leaves and Nelson chases after him to apologise for being rude to him.  He finds Darren being beaten in alley and he stumbles to a phone booth, he dials a number and in a flash, turns into a tall, skeletal creature called Boy Chimney, who deals with Darren's attackers and carries Darren to the hospital, while Nelson deals with a rush of memories that are not his own.  Finally he changes back.

The action cuts to a bald gangster who says they'll need more protection to deal with Darren if super-beings are involved.  After visiting to check in on Darren, Nelson returns to the alley and dials the number again in the booth.  This time he turns into Captain Lachrymose, and turns up at the bald guys hideout, causing him intense, crippling sadness.  He warns him to leave Darren alone. He goes back to the alley again and ponders to new found power he has access too:

Nelson: "It's impossible.  It's just a busted up phone. 4376.  Ain't even an interesting number.  Ain't a prime.  Ain't nothing.  But it's the number...'cause look, 4376 spells another word to.  HERO."
Boy Chimney in action
The next issue begins with Nelson doing "research" on how long the effect lasts and how long between transformations he can use the dial.  Finally he finishes and reflects:

Darren: "Time to change into the worst identity of them all".

Referring to himself.  Serious self-esteem issues there.  Nelson talks with Darren in the hospital and they discuss the epidemic of people falling into comas in the city.  Darren says it was his job to go to a newly comatose persons flat and steal their stuff, but they kept being interrupted in their work by a Hero.  Nelson later ponders this and his desire to "bust Darren's ass out of this mess".

He goe's and changes into a hero with a TV for a head called Ctrl-Alt-Del.  He goes to the apartment Darren was going to next and bumps into a hovering, cloaked purple figure, who attacks him.

Nelson: "Stop thinking like a schlub.  Start thinking like a hero."

And he uses his power to "reboot" the mysterious figure, who leaves.  As does Nelson, before Darren's crew are due to turn up.
Ctrl-Alt-Del versus Manteau
The action cuts to two gas masked villains discussing what happened, saying the woman Nelson encountered is called "Manteau".  One of the masked men attacks the other with black spit, then says he'll go take care of the problem.  He goes and melts his way through Darren's hospital window.  A panicked Nelson who had tried to reach Darren at the hopsital only to be told they can't get into his room, goes and changes into The Iron Snail.  A soldier with a huge metal shell.

He attacks the mobsters at the hospital and then gets into a fight with the reptile like creature who was attacking Darren and who seems to know who he is.  Before he can prevail, he starts to change back and goes rushing back to the phone booth, closely followed by the mobsters.  There he finds Manteau hovering over the phone booth.  She says she made a mistake attacking him.

Manteau: "You want to know how I knew to wait for you.  How that thing knew who you were. What the dial is.  What's going on.  I can help you".
Squid takes on The Iron Snail
The mobsters attack and in the crossfire the phonebooth gets damaged.  Manteau tells him to take just the dial, which he does, then she wraps a tentacle around him and they fly off.  The mobsters report back to a female who was a doctor at the hospital.  The reptile creature - who the Doctor calls "Squid" - says he knows she wants "something from nothing", while he just wants to go home.  But if they suceed, the emptiness will want something too.

Manteau flies Nelson to her house and tells him she might be able to fix his dial.  She also has one of her own.  She gives him a potted history of the telephone:

Manteau: "I'm saying Bell and Edison, all of them are lucky 0 wanted them to secretly swap thoughts.  I'm saying the entire history of telephony is a by product of someone elses research.  Reserach into something else altogether".

She then asks him what his biggest fight was and he channels a Boy Chimney memory.  She explains that she uses the same name, and costume so she can keep her own personality grounded when she changes.
Nelson and Manteau
In a car, the doctor and Squid plus two zombies, go and visit a man called Mr.King.  Some time ago his brother saw something years ago, and him being close to his brother means he can be used as a conduit to channel something.  One of the zombies then vomits black goo on him.

Nelson returns to Manteau who shows him she has been tracking Dial reports over the years.   She then dials into listen to Mr. King as he is being attacked, becuase he was close to the last big cluster of Dial incidents.  Nelson tries his dial and changes briefly, seeing a "shadow on the line" while he is changed.   Manteau tells him to try again and he changes into Baroness Resin.  He freaks out at this:

Manteau: "You been a giant metal spring yet? A super-disco dancer?  A boomerang? Now it's bust because you got ovaries?"
She tells him to "woman up" and they go to rescue Mr. King who has been strapped to a bed.  As Manteau and Nelson arrive, a huge black being bursts out of him.
The Abyss
Squid falls into a prayer position and thinks back to a thing that was lost:

Squid: "It fell through fast places, through anti-qworlds, through questionable realities that weren't sure whether they were a punishment it's fall took it back to where it had first been trapped, fallen into something.. and it never stopped falling.  Until it did stop".

And he remembers the doctor rescuing him and telling him she wanted his companion back.  Back with the black being, the doctor tries to bind it, while it lashes out at Squid.  Manteau and nelson attack it and make it disappear.  The doctor blasts Manteau in the back with her binding gun, while Nelson transforms back into himself. 

The doctor tells Nelson she made herself a "nullo-mancer" Studying all these years to bring the Abyss back.  She and Squid then leave with the unconcious Manteau and her dial.  Nelson tries to dial another hero, but his dial seems permanently broken now.

Back in her lair, the doctor has Manteau strapped to a table, while the Abyss cause havoc in the city.  She says that Dial-wielders banished Squid and the Abyss, and she wants to know how.  Squid weakly asks if she could heal him, but she refuses.  Intent on finding out about the relationship between Dials and the Abyss she tortures Manteau, but she knows nothing.  The doctor then says she could boost her nullo-mancer power with the dial and bind the Abyss that way.
The Abyss
The Abyss is growing larger, and Nelson watches it on TV, quoting Nietzche's famous lines about gazing into the abyss.  Squid turns up at Nelson's flat, apologises for killing his friend Darren, then shows Nelson the huge hole the Abyss made in him.  He says all he ever wanted was to go home.  He explains his people are "null-herders", training and taming "the wild nothing".   He found one he could push even harder than normal and explored the universe with it, until it was the one in control.  And it was hungry.

Squid: "It is dark between the stars.  It is hungry for the light."

The dialers banished him for stealing jewellery while on Earth. The Abyss has lost itself and is getting stronger.  The doctor might make it mad enough that it remembers it can eat suns.

Nelson tells him that his dial is bust and all he can do is change into himself.  Squid says that will have to do.  So Nelson dresses as a super-hero and calls himself Rescue Jack and he and squid go to the hide-out and beat down the mobsters.  Nelson finds Manteau stripped of her mask and costume and she turns out to be an old woman.  He unties her and she dresses back up again and they go to leave.  Back with the doctor and the Abyss, it shows her whats happening at the hideout and she warps back to where Nelson, Squid and Manteau are, screaming "traitor!" at Squid.
Rescue Jack and Squid take on the mobsters
Squid takes on the doctor so Nelson and Manteau can make a getaqway and fix the broken dial.  Back at Manteau's house, she reintroduces herself as Roxie Hodder, and thanks Nelson for rescuing her. She tells him that in the sixties she was doing a Phd in Telephony when a "Joy festival" opened her mind to more spiritual uses for it.  Watching on TV, Nelson sees Squid even more badly injured, plus the doctor has dialled again, turning into a powerful hero called The Hairbringer.  The doctor is angry at the Abyss for it's ingratitude and starts to attack it in earnest.  Roxie finishes mending the dial and hopes she gets someone strong, before she can dial, Nelson snatches it from her and dials himself:

Nelson: "Come on.  No more crazy powers. This one matters.  This time we need a superman"

Roxie: "We're screwed"
Cock-a-Hoop to the rescue!
Nelson has turned into Cock-a-Hoop, a giant hoop with a chickens body attached. Oh dear. He goes into battle with the doctor and the Abyss. Meanwhile, military helicopters fire missiles at the Abyss, who just absorbs them.  Nelson uses his spin attack to confuse all the little Voids the Abyss is generating.  They turn on the Abyss and attack it.  It starts to turn into stone, then suddenly there appears another dialler, shifting forms fast.  It attacks the doctor and disables her dial.  She turns back into herself and as she was hovering way above ground, this does not end well for her.  Then the dialler fires a giant bullet into the head of the now stone Abyss and it finally dies, before disappearing as mysteriously as it appeared.
The dying Abyss and Hairbringer
Nelson, now back to his normal self, and Roxie check the doctor is dead and at the same time, Squid finally dies as well.  They don't celebrate their victory over the Abyss, because all they can do is ponder the being that attacked the doctor, the shadow on the line who targets dials.

Nelson: "That's what it's been hunting. You felt it on the line.  Since way before the Abyss turned up. That's what it came for... What's the shadow gonna do when it figures out we got another one."

And as they contemplate the half-broken dial, this arc comes to an end.  But it's not the end of the book.

We next get an amusing one shot that explores Nelson and Roxies growing, warm relationship as they share the dial.  Roxies is telling Nelson he can't go out looking like he does now, which is as a stereotypical "Red Indian" called Chief Mighty Arrow.

Nelson: "Ah come off it!  Enough with the political correctness BS. I got super arrows! Jet propelled explosive feathers! I'm heap big trouble for criminals... uh"

Roxie: "'Heap big?' Oh my God can't you hear yourself?"
Roxie scolds Chief Mighty Arrow
After chasing off the flying horse that came with his powers, Roxie shows Nelson her "Refusenik Dossier".  The I.D's even she as Manteau refused to use.  She says they were just too shameful, as Nelson peruses the photos.

Nelson: "What the hell is that?!"

Roxie: "That's Golliwog.  Dialled it in 2007.  They used to make dolls like that.  What kind of insensitve pig - or racist - would put that out in the world.!"

Ouch.  That is actually a meta reference and qwhat the hip hop community would call "a massive diss" aimed at Alan Moore putting the Golliwog (who has a large penis) in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, published in 2007.  I'd like to mount some spirited defence of Moore as simply appropriating the iconography of the fifties to make some kind of satirical point.  But I can't, some things are too toxic, too laden with negative meaning to be used that easily.  I don't think Moore is racist, but I think he made an error.  Still, getting a shot at him in a mainstream comic is funny, but better watch out China, lest a puppet snake God comes to eat your soul in the night!  Of course, Miéville is using dodgy imagery himself, but makes it clear that it's wrong and shameful so I think he about gets away with it.

Nelson agrees to stay inside, although he sulks.  Sweetly, Roxie kisses his forehead and agrees he can go out if someone is really in trouble.  They chat and Roxie tells Nelson about the last time she went out patrolling not as Manteau, she was sick and overwhelmed by half-memories when she changed back.  Nelson must protect his mind.

To be continued....
Later, as he restlessly watches TV he sees a hostage crisis taking place.  Before he can rush to the scene, his winged horse turns up there and craps all over the attackers, rescuing the hostages.  Disappointed, Nelson nearly falls asleep, but catches himself before he does so.  Falling alseep while dialled is a real no-no. Then another situation breaks out with a costumed attacker cause havoc in the town.  Before he can rush to the scene he changes back.  Roxie swipes the dial off him and changes herself, but as she does so she tells Nelson she might have tracked down another dial.

There is actually more in this collection with the inclusion of an issue #0 set in the ancient past, involving a primitive stone dial and travellers from the future.  However the real meat of this book is the relationship between Roxie and Nelson.  And also Nelson's journey from self-confessed "schlub" to an eager hero, who helped save the world.  The writing is excellent, melding goofy super-heroic stuff to a real core of hard fantasy concepts, with plenty of warmth and humour on the way.  The artwork is great as well, capturing both the epic and the intimate with ease, given some of the cosmic concepts written here, a lesser artist could have been completely stymied, but Mateus Santolouco pulls it off.  Enough on-going plotlines have been laid to make checking out the second (and sadly final) volume a real must.  Dial H proves that a full on reboot of somewhat corny concepts can be handled in an accomplished and literary style, while still staying try to the core ideas. Definitely the cream of The New 52 relaunch.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Alan Moore Obscurities: AARGH - Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia

"My love.  The vain, malignant hordes are with us still" - Narrator ("The Mirror Of Love")

My intial plan for this blog was to review an Alan Moore Obscurity at the beginning of every month.  But I feel this is a little different from Alan Moore's usual work and so I'm dropping it in now.  The reason it's different is that this is an anthology comic of which Moore writes only the first strip, the rest being contributed by the cream of late 80's comic book artists and writers.  It was also one of the few things self published by Moore's ill-fated own publishing company - Mad Love.  This is in in fact a charity comic protesting a 1988 piece of UK Goverment Legislation known as Clause or Section 28.  This ill-defined act declared it illegal for Local Governments who "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as apretended family relationship".  I fully recommend you read the Wikipedia article on the history of the bill, which wasn't repealed until 2003 by the Labour party who had always opposed it, despite fierce opposition from many Conservative polititicians whose party had enacted it. 

If you just want the highlights there are a couple of things to note.  First, being gay in 1980's Britain wasn't a barrel of laughs. Blamed for the AIDS epidemic, gay men tended to be identified as indulging in a bestial perversion punishable by God's wrath, an attitude that drove much of the impetus behind Section 28 and that was still showing up in the popular press well into the noughties.  Lesbians suffered less outright hatred, but tended to be lumped in with the most extreme forms of feminism and were mainly laughed at, or considered ugly man haters who just needed a good man to bang some sense into them.  As wikipedia points out:

Wikipedia: "Rising negative sentiments towards homosexuality eventually peaked in 1987, the year before the legislation was enacted. According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 75% of the then population held homosexual activity to be 'always or mostly wrong', with just 11% believing it to be never wrong. As of 2012, those figures stand at 28% and 47% respectively."
Just Waiting by Dave Gibbons
On the upside, social attitudes started to change quite quickly, but on the downside, we got things like Clause 28, brought about because while Conservatives ruled nationally,  many local governments were run by the left and liberal wings of British politics, and the impetus for the Bill was bought about by an innocuous American book about a girl with two dads.  Although there was never any proof this made it into any school, it was seen as part of an agenda to inculcate the young into the twilight world of the homosexual by "loony" left-wing councils.  In practice, it simply made things a lot harder for teachers to, say deal with the homophobic bullying of teenagers in their care (my sister, who started teaching in 1999 confirmed this).  No successful prosecutions were ever bought under the act but it remained a powerful totem of intolerance on the statute books.  Oh and because I am feeling unfair about this, want to know what our current fuhrer David cameron thought about Section 28?

Wikipedia: "In 2000, David Cameron (at that time an unelected Conservative party member) repeatedly attacked the Labour government's plans to abolish Section 28, publicly criticising then-Prime Minister Tony Blair as being "anti-family" and accused him of wanting the "promotion of homosexuality in schools". In 2003, once Cameron had been elected as Conservative MP for Witney, he continued to support Section 28. As the Labour government were determined to remove Section 28 from law, Cameron voted in favour of a Conservative amendment that retained certain aspects of the clause, which gay rights campaigners described as "Section 28 by the back door". This was unsuccessful, and Section 28 was repealed by the Labour government without concession."
Clause For Concern by Kevin O'Neil
To be fair he has since apologised, and his government did end up equalising gay marriage, so I just about forgive him.  But it's instructive to see how long this Bill lingered into the 21st century long past the widespread acceptance of gay people into wider society and what kind of people were still championing it even then.

I have to say, reading about how high homophobic sentiment was in the late 80's makes me even more impressed that Fleetway, the publishers of Crisis allowed a comic depiction of an out gay relationship in The New Statesmen, which I covered last month.  Alan Moore decided he was going to uses his newfound, post-Watchmen clout in the industry to publish a comic that would raise awareness and raise money to oppose the bill (it raised at least £17,000 in the end that was passed onto a gay charity).  Moore wasn't opposed to the bill just because he is a decent guy; at that time he was living in a polyamorous relationship with his wife and their mutal, female lover. So he was part of a family directly targeted by the bill.  This experimental relationship didn't last, as his wife and their lover ran off together and set up home without him.  Moore being the classy guy he is still continued to write postitive depictions of gay characters into his subsequent work.
Real Dream by Art Speigelman
Contributing to ARRGH were the likes of included Robert Crumb, Howard Cruse, Hunt Emerson, Neil Gaiman, Dave Gibbons, Los Bros Hernandez, Garry Leach, Dave McKean, Frank Miller, Harvey Pekar, Savage Pencil, Bill Sienkiewicz, Keven O'Neil, Brian Bolland, Dave Sim, Posy Simmonds, Art Spiegelman, and Bryan Talbot.  Moore contributed the lead eight-page story called "The Mirror Of Love" which was illustrated by Rick Vietch and Steve Bissette.  Because many of the contributions were single page strips I am going to focus more on discussing the story-led multiple page strips, but I've include a few single-pagers as well for you to enjoy on their own merits.

I didn't buy this comic during the time it was first out.  I was 14 in 1988, and although I knew I wasn't straight, I wasn't gay either then, having as I did a very misanthropic attitude towards the whole human race.  When it finally clicked that I was gay in 1993, being gay was already being seen as less of a tragic burden and more a legitmate part of one's identity.  Having the good fortune to have liberal parents who didn't care and going to University in a city which had a large gay "village", I never have experienced direct homophobia in my life, for which I am very grateful.  Anyway, enough with the background, lets look at some of the strips.
The Mirror Of Love by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch
The book leads with Moore's "The Mirror of Love" a lyrical journey through the history of homosexuality in society, its ups and downs.  Beautifully illustrated by Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch who he had worked with on Swamp Thing.  It takes in early matriarchal societies, the anti-gay rethoric of Leviticus, the ancient Greek's and Spartans,  Sappho, more potshots at Christianity:

Narrator: "Yet this tolerance could not endure the rise of Christianity, which quite ignored Christ's love for outlaws and instead embraced moral severity. Defining sex as base. St. Paul named same-sex love, for the first time, as a sin ."

The journey then continues through the executions of gay people during the dark ages, the smearing of the Knight's Templar as gay, themore liberal societies bought about by the Renaissance and the famous gay/bisexual artists it laid claim to.   Further on it places the first link between homosexuality and the theatre to Shakespeares time,  he also tells us a bout a lesbian community at Llangollen, then on through qwriters and dramatists placing coded words to same-sex lovers through the ages. 

Narrator: "Elseqwhere in Leipzig, 1869, One K.M. Benkert first referred to 'homosexuality'. Industrial Englands view that all must be explained by science prompted dotors to declare us ill.  Not friends or sinners anymore."

Then we travel through Oscar Wilde's trial and disgrace to nascent homosexual pride movements, but then WW2 breaks out and homosexual are placed in concentration camps.  But post-war the push for homosexual equality gathers pace.  The Uk decriminalises it, while gays in the US riot at Stonewwall.  Just as it seems a more tolerant soceity is in sight, AID's arrives.

Narrator: "Policemen claimed to speak for God, describing persons with AIDs as swilling in a self-made cesspit, while councillor Brownhills, a conservative, recalled an earlier Final Solution, and offered to 'gas the queers'.  Margaret Thatcher praised them for their forthrightness."

Those are not made up quotes.  The Chief Constable of Manchester, James Anderton was the anti-gay policeman who made the "cess-pit" remark and made life hard for the growing gay community in that city for years.  The story ends with Clause 28 being passed into law.

Narrator: "While life endures we'll love. And afterwards, if what they say is true, I'll be refused a heaven crammed with Pope's, policemen and fundamentalists, and burn instead, quite happily with Sappho, Michelangelo and you my love.  I'd burn through eternity with you."
The Mirror Of Love by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and Rick Veitch
If it seems a little unfair that Moore is taking so many shots at Christianity here, it's a sad fact of life that the fundamentalist right-wing Christian movement, emboldened by the conservatism of Thatcher sought ways to influence public life further and I'm afraid Clause 28 was one of those things they whole-heartedly supported.  Of course, there must have been plenty of liberal Christians horrified at what was being done in the name of their religion and I know many prominent Christians spoke out against the Clause and a few years later at University, I ended up with some Christian friends who were totally cool about gay issues.  But at this point in time, the gay community and fundamentalist Christians were "enemies" and Moore is only reflecting upon that.
From Homogeonous To Honey by Neil Gaimen, Bryan Talbot and Mark Buckingham
Neil Gaiman had formed a close friendship with Moore in the mid 80's.  He'd enjoyed a pretty fast rise to fame in the comic's world, working for 2000AD and taking over from Moore on Marvelman/Miracleman.  His contribution to AARGH comes roundabout the same time he was hired by DC to do his most famous comic work The Sandman.  He takes a slightly different tack from Moore in his strip here. At the time of the Clause's vote into law, there were people in local government who saw it as a way to retroactively erase all homosexual influence from public life and culture.  Gaiman takes a satirical look at how this translate in practice, all trace of difference and "perversity" gone from history would make for a very bland and homogenous life now in a strip drawn by Bryan Talbot and Mark Buckingham.

Masked Man:  "Today the world is a simpler place.  We've taken out all the complications.  All the square pegs and the painful and the strange.  In Utopia, lacking cultural relevant for deviancy all are happy with their lot.  Everybody is exactly the same.  Isn't it sweet?"
From Homogeonous To Honey by Neil Gaiman, Bryan Talbot and Mark Buckingham
Of course Gaiman is using extreme exaggeration to make his case, but it must be remembered that this was countering the extremisim on the other side as it were, people who quite openly said they wanted gays herded into gas chambers to prevent the spread of AIDs and who saw lesbian mothers as unfit to raise their children amongst other things.

Dave Sim's contribution uses characters from his long running Cerebus series, which I covered extensively when I kicked this blog off.  It was a comic about an Aardvark who lived in a parody of Conan the Barbarian's world, before spinning off into a satire of politics and religion.  Cerebus himself doesn't appear in this strip, instead we get the Wolveroach and his two sidekicks.  The Roach was a character who shifted identities all the time, lampooning one popular super-hero character after another.  What's an interesting little joke about using his character was that Dave Sim dropped little hints now and then in early arcs that at least one of his split-personalities was gay. 
An Untold Tale Of The Super Secret Sacred Wars by Dave Sim
The Roach then strikes me exactly as the kind of character, with his buttoned up sexuality to be fascinated with exposing gay activity while having gay thoughts himself. Sadly, while this strip is dedicated with love to Moore's wife and girlfriend (who he later openly insulted in one of the 90's Cerebus books, tsk tsk), Sim would undergo a quite radical shift in opinion and by his last book in the Cerebus series was including homophobic diatribes in his work equating homosexuality with paedophilia and other such nonsense.  I'm not sure if his friendship with Moore survived that, but at least here I get to enjoy some extra Sim artwork from one of the best run's in the series (Church & State).
An Untold Tale Of The Super Secret Sacred Wars by Dave Sim
Frank Miller might seem like a surprising inclusion, given his politics now.  His rant about Occupy Wall Street being a bunch of rapists and theives and most notoriously, his virulently Islamophobic book Holy Terror all combine to give the impression he's something of a right wing nutcase.  And even Alan Moore himself called him an idiot for his comments on the Occupy movement.  But back in the 80's he and Alan Moore had a lot in common.  Both wrote books that redefined the comicbook genre; and indeed Moore himself wrote the introduction to The Dark Knight Returns.  They both fell out with DC over issues regarding a ratings system for comics and both went on to have critically acclaimed success in creator owned comicbooks, Sin City and 300 for Miller; From Hell and Lost Girls for Moore. 
The Future of Law Enforcement by Frank Miller
And what people tend to forget is The Dark Knight Returns is a coruscating attack on Reaganite America, he was by no means a right-wing nutcase back then in his writing at least.  His contribution is the amusing tale of a boorish, queerbashing heterosexual, who after an accident is rendered a paraplegic attracted to men (hilariously, he is rendered gay by an accident where his car is "rear ended!").  So he allows himself to be rebuilt as "Robohomophobe" playing off the then popular film hit Robocop.  Miller wrote and drew his contribution and it's very recognisable as his work, great charicature of Thatcher as well. Nice one Frank.
The Future of Law Enforcement by Frank Miller
AARGH is a great compilation of politically savage comic strips, which was assembled for a good cause and functions as a brilliant snap-shot of Who was Who in the UK comic's world in 1988. There's plenty more stuff in the collection, but I decided to focus mainly on those still well known today.  The coup of getting international contributions from the likes of Art Speigelman (Maus), the Hernandez Brothers (Love and Rockets) and Frank Miller shouldn't be underestimated either and really shows how powerful and influential post-Watchmen era Alan Moore was.  If there were any postives to come out of the Clause 28 debacle, it was that it radicalised the UK LGBT community in the same way the Stonewall riots had done for the US community in the late 60's.  If you want to see an awesome example of anti-Clause 28 protest in action, follow this link to a Youtube clip of a gang of lesbians invading the live BBC 6 o'clock news broadcast!
Back cover by Los Bros Hernandez
As society and acceptance moved on, Clause 28 became something of an embarressment.  An outdated relic that many conservatives wished to do away with as Labour and the Liberals did (though we musn't forget some on the left did support the Clause as well).  In the much more tolerant society we live in today, it seems hard to credit that such a deliberately homophobic piece of legislation was ever passed into law.  But thankfully we live in more enlightened times now, and while homophobia in public life hasn't completely vanished (thanks to the likes of UKIP and the BNP) the chances of such anti-gay policies being enacted today are practically zero, and for that we can be truly thankful.